Marolt: Free Armory Hall from the clutches of City Hall
October 16, 2015
As you know, there is a movement afloat to build more government buildings in town. Don't worry, though — this is not growth any more than employee housing or the hospital is.
There was a time, about a couple of weeks ago, when I believed that it would be a good idea if all the city and county offices were moved out of town and out to the Aspen Business Center. It seemed to be a solid solution to ameliorate a good chunk of the daily automobile congestion downtown.
Our government is a big employer, after all, and a lot of its employees live somewhere west of the roundabout and drive to work in spite of the Canary Initiative. What sense does it make to have them all drive into and out of town every day? Who could argue with moving the congestion from downtown to a place nobody cares about between Aspen and the intercept lot?
Well, after I sat down and really thought about it deeply for a minute or two, I'm no longer very sure at all that moving the local government administration out of town and out to the land where rental cars get returned and United Express flights go to get canceled is even a mediocre idea.
Think about it: We move the government offices out there, and sure enough, more than a few attorneys are going to want their offices out there nice and handy, too. Some land planners and architects and the like will find it more convenient to be out there. Before you know it, there will be demand for a new hotel or two, maybe even an affordable one built to the lot lines with variances out the ying-yang, and a few new bars for all the consultants and experts who are regularly called on by the local governments to give us their two cents' worth in exchange for taxpayer dollars.
I think what we might end up with is two downtowns with an extremely busy stretch of highway connecting them that gets bogged down with paper-pushers driving back and forth all day long, with the airport and ski-area traffic mixed in. It actually sounds like a nightmare scenario to me now. And to think I almost didn't give it a second thought.
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Either way, we need to build a new City Hall. That building is more dysfunctional than a developer on truth serum. You know that City Hall was not originally City Hall. That old pit of an office building across from Peach's was originally built as the local armory. That's a place to store weapons.
But apparently there wasn't a great need for weapons storage in Aspen back in the late 1800s, so the wise townspeople turned it into a community center. The old pictures are great! The top two floors were actually what amounts to a wood-floor gym. They had dances, and I think they played basketball there, too, but I'm not nearly old enough to know this for sure. If you're really curious, you'll have to go ask Tony Vagneur. Downstairs, it had rooms for parties and meetings and such.
Somewhere along the way, probably in the late '50s, our government needed more room to administrate from, so it said "to heck with the community" and tore out the gymnasium and all the meeting rooms and crammed a bunch of offices into that dear old building.
Now, hopefully you've never had to go in there, but if you have, you know it's a cramped, dingy, claustrophobic mess that could cause a hoarder to hyperventilate, and it needs to be redone in a big way. The problem is that given the historic nature of that structure, it would cost more to remodel than to just build new offices.
It's a good thing this problem is easy to solve. Since they're going to build a new government office building soon anyway, they might as well just add an extra floor and move City Hall in there to save the taxpayers a few bucks. But what happens to the old Armory Hall then?
I'm glad I asked. There is a nonprofit group in town that thinks it can raise $8.5 million to redo the old City Hall into the older community center that the building was to begin with. How cool would that be? I bet you can't name one other building project in town that has come full circle on history like that. Who knows? Maybe we can do it with Lift 1A, too. I like the way this is heading. And they say you can't go back again.
Roger Marolt urges anyone with any interest in history, community and fiscal responsibility to vote "yes" on community use on the advisory question about the Armory Hall building. Email him at email@example.com.
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